Faithful are the wounds of a friend

“Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” Proverbs 27: 5, treatment 6

On Sunday afternoon I wrote an article dealing with the earthquake and tsunami and the resultant devastation in Japan, looking at it from a theological perspective. Perhaps you have read it here on the blog.

I spent quite some time pouring over and examining every word, seeking to make the issues as clear and compelling as possible for those who would read it. I read and then re-read the article through a couple of times. Then I had the idea of sending it to a gentleman whom I have never met, but who has already become something of a good friend through the internet. I wanted him to look at the article I had written with fresh eyes, so to speak, and I asked for his advice on how to improve it or what I might add to it. I felt something might be missing, but I was not sure what it might be. Boy, was I in for a surprise!

In that I have not got permission to mention my friend’s name here (he has no idea I am writing this), he will remain anonymous. However, after reading my article, this was his response:

“John,

I affirm everything you said…theologically.

My problem…and the problem I have with almost all Reformed and Calvinistic folks when speaking of these things is that we don’t evince a shred of compassion or understanding. We think playing the hard doctrine card is sufficient to address broken hearts and broken lives… and I’m here to tell you it’s not.

Until we learn to mourn with those who mourn and weep with those who weep, few will be attracted to the truth we have to share. Mix in some compassion and understanding… because I sense that you have great measures of both to give.

The article is good and sound theology…but it can be so much more.

Please hear me…I’m not trying to be critical of you in a personal way at all. I just believe you have much more to give…”

I was stunned, floored and left more than a little breathless. Why? Because everything he wrote was true. Every single word!

As the saying goes, “People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care,” and in this, I had failed miserably. I realized that although I had been praying much for Japan and had felt very broken by the images I had observed on television, my article did not mention this at all.

1 Corinthians 13:1, 2 says, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”

I had written an article which was probably theologically accurate, but by itself, was just a clanging cymbal or irritating noise in the ears of the Lord. I had missed the love. I had missed the compassion. I had missed the heart of Christ Himself.

Though alone at my computer, in reading my friend’s words I said out loud, “Ohhhh God, No!” I felt so ashamed. I felt rebuked. Not by my friend so much, but by the Lord.

I went to the article and quickly inserted a paragraph about our need to weep with those who weep. It was something I really wanted to say, but in my zeal to get things right in doctrine, I had forgotten to mention it.

I wrote back to my friend within a few minutes by e-mail and said simply, “wow – that is really helpful… I agree completely – thanks so much brother.”

His reply, “Wow…thank you for hearing me, my friend!”

I then quickly replied, “oh I heard you loud and clear, precious brother – thank you for your insight.

I felt rebuked by the Lord (not by you).. in my efforts to be clear regarding who our God is, I forgot compassion.

how bad is that??!!!

I feel terrible about that.. thankfully, I can write more and I have. I just added a note at the bottom of the article.

Do you have a moment to take a quick look and see if there is anything else I could add?

Once again – THANK YOU SO MUCH”

He replied, “Much better…that’s a Calvinism that will preach! 🙂
God bless you, John…we’ll run that on the blog tomorrow.”

I was not expecting that, but true to his word, he told others about my article, pointing his readers to it.

Here was a true friend, who believed the best in me, and brought loving rebuke (he did not assume the worst, that in fact, I had no compassion for hurting people). And when I heeded his rebuke, he was not only happy, but wanted to do something to affirm me.

I wrote another quick e-mail to him saying, “I am so happy to know you and appreciate so much your boldness – God really used you in my life tonight. I am sure it was not particularly easy to write as you did, but I tell you – your words penetrated and I still feel the weight of them.

I could say that I do feel compassion and have been praying much for Japan – but the fact is, none of that came out in the article. We tend to focus on one thing at a time and forget the fact that truth is often more than one dimensional – when we speak of God’s right to rule, we sometimes forget God’s love of compassion. – I say “we” but I mean “I” – that is what I did.

Thank you so much once again.”

He wrote back, “John, We all do it…I do it. God has just really shown me in the last year that my heart was cold and full of pride…and I lost sight of His compassion and love for people. You have no idea how much it means to have someone hear…”

I hope in sharing this exchange between two friends and brothers in Christ, it will encourage you when the time comes to either give or receive correction. May it encourage you to always act with humility and kindness as my friend did, to express your words with love, believing the best of the person you speak to. If you are on the receiving end, may these short words encourage you to embrace a rebuke as God’s loving heart to make you more like His Son.

I still feel more than a little ashamed that I forgot the love… but am so grateful to God for forgiveness, and for the faithful wounds of a friend.

I hope you have such a friend who can speak into your life in such a way.

P.S. I woke up the next morning to find an e-mail informing me that someone, blessed by the article, had translated it into Italian for his readers in Italy. What a beautiful gift from the Lord that is. Rather than waking and remembering my gross sin, God sent this precious gift of encouragement all the way from Italy.

It was as if God was saying to me, “My son, I will use you even in your weakness and imperfection, and cause your words to reach people you never even thought possible.”

How beautiful is that? Thank you wonderful Savior, and thank You for the gift of true friendship.

3 thoughts on “Faithful are the wounds of a friend

  1. John:

    Thank you for your honesty and openness regarding your post & the thoughtful rebuke you received.

    I would like to say, if I may, that I appreciate the post as it was first written. I may have to provide a bit of background as to why, but that would most likely be the length of a full post.

    I will prepare a responsive post and have it up in my own blog a bit later today.

    jules

  2. I have found in many of the Reformed, and particularly Calvinistic writings that correct doctrine is believed to be the answer. While doctrine is the foundation of which we build, it is grace and mercy that meets us. In the end He loved us first and and shed His blood to redeem us – an act of love, compassion and mercy that exceeds anything we understand. Yet when we speak to others of Christ it is through doctrine when it should be a humble compassion knowing we are all sinners.

    You are far from being alone in this brother. I have gone from salvation by works and sacraments, premillennial, and free will to Reformed in my life. Although I am a firm believer in correct doctrine, we become no different that those who become arrogant and proud of their belief. We need to let our doctrine filter through the spirit of Christ, His humility and mercy.

  3. Well done all around. Thanks for sharing, for the extent to which you were rebuked is the extent to which I and others like you are rebuked. Talk about a domino effect in a good sense!

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